The Five Stages of Crisis-Management According to Jack Welch
As we all know, our country is experiencing a staggering financial crisis. This crisis has stunned the nation and left many fearful and concerned regarding how to address and solve it.
In September of 2005, Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric, wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal. The article was entitled “The Five Stages of Crisis-Management.” The context for the article was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation left behind in New Orleans.
Although we are experiencing a crisis of a different sort, it seems appropriate to revisit and synopsize the lessons that Mr. Welch shared in that article as they are helpful in contextualizing what we are experiencing today.
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Stage 1: Denial
According to Mr. Welch, the first stage of that pattern is denial. This stage usually begins with the belief that the problem isn’t that bad. This is a typical reaction, in part, because people never believe that bad things will happen to them. He goes on to suggest that “one of the marks of good leadership is the ability to dispense with denial quickly and face into hard stuff with eyes open and fists raised.” It becomes the leader’s job to help people confront reality, create a new direction and inspire people to address that reality with positive action.
Stage 2: Containment
The initial symptom at this stage is for people to try to keep the problem quiet. From there, it is not uncommon to find that leaders, even those who are extraordinarily gifted, try to make the problem disappear by giving it to someone else to solve.
Stage 3: Shame-Mongering
Mr. Welch goes on to state that at this stage, “all stakeholders fight to get their side of the story told, with themselves as the heroes at the center.” In the last few days, we have witnessed a demonstration of this phase as we have listened to our present administration, Democratic and Republican leadership tell us who is to blame and who will save the day.
Stage 4: Blood on the Floor
In the fourth stage, as in just about every crisis, there is at least one high profile person who pays with his job. This crisis is no different. Leadership at AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and many of the companies that have been swallowed up have paid with their jobs. And unfortunately, again in this case, that leader often brings down many other people with him or her.
Stage 5: The Problem Gets Fixed
In the fifth and final stage, the crisis is resolved and, as Mr. Welch notes, “despite prophesies of permanent doom, life goes on, usually for the better.” The bill that passed the Senate floor tonight added in may new features for taxpayers including increases in the limit on federal bank deposit insurance, tax breaks for production of and investment in industries promoting clean energy such as solar, wind and biodiesel and tax relief for victims of natural disasters in the Midwest, such as flooding, tornadoes and other severe weather events (although there certainly are “sweeteners” that look alot like “pork” such as tax breaks for builders of auto raceways and rum producers in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico).
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It seems that we are beginning to enter stage five of the crisis-management process even though it may take us a number of years to fully experience the results. It is also important to remember that crises have a positive element to them as well. They let us know where things are broken and help us identify the solutions so that future similar crises may be avoided.
Mr. Welch’s insights are extremely valuable in one other arena as well.
Knowing that there is a predictable pattern to crisis management is useful as it will help us move on to the recovery stage.